Tears quietly dropped from beneath my glasses and onto my cheeks as we crossed the bridge making our way to his funeral. What is this life all about? I could not imagine our family without him, the person who was the constant, the person that I could rely upon. I could count on Brendan always for compassion, a good laugh, a great story. I knew he would SEE me and HEAR me. He had no where to go. He had been confined to a wheelchair for many years. He had time, all the time in the world to listen and to connect, while we were running around with our busy lives. I wish I had sat with him more. At every family gathering I would spend some of my time sitting with my beloved brother-in-law sharing stories, But that won’t happen anymore. His chair can never be filled by another.
I wondered about writings of his that may be found on his computer that I have not yet seen, writings that would give me more of him, now that he was gone. Now that I could not listen to his stories with my own ears, I wanted to read them with my own eyes. Funny, we are all here temporarily, and we all know that, but mostly, we pretend it’s not so. We are taught to savor the moments, but, we are too busy. Yet, when someone we love dearly dies, the reality of the impermanence is a lived experience, not just some inspirational quote to tattoo on our arm. The loss is felt in our bones and we ache. We want to hold onto our loved one that is no longer physically here with us. We look at pictures. We reminisce. We tell stories. We grasp for something. We wonder “what is life all about?”
Brendan was a storyteller. He would start off telling you a story with something like “Get a load of this…” and he would lean forward and wet his lips and before he even said the first word, anticipation was stirred. He would look around to see if anyone else was listening as if what he was going to tell me should not be heard by anyone else. I would position myself to listen (Brendan never told a story quickly) and I would hang on to every word. I remember political talks we had forty years ago prior to the first time I voted. I am a Democrat partly because of Brendan. I am a writer partly because of Brendan. He encouraged stories to be written. He was a person who, if you spent any amount of time with, you were changed by. He reveled in listening to stories, as well. He never spoke about anyone badly. And whenever you would be complaining to him about someone or something, he would say “You’ve gotta be shitting me!” It was his brand of acknowledging and validating. And I loved it.
It’s three days after his funeral. I am back to work but having difficulty focusing. I am still wondering as one does “What is this life all about?” This I know for sure: Brendan will live on in our hearts and minds. He will live on especially in his children and grandchildren. I know I want to be a better person because of him. As the priest noted at his funeral, based on the amount of people who showed up and the sentiments they expressed, Brendan was a very rich man. I could not agree more!
I am remembering our last couple of visits. There is something to be said about hospice. It makes you wake up to the reality of life, the impermanence of it all. You take the time to visit. You don’t put it off till next time. The visit I had in December was one I never want to forget. I walked into his room where he was in bed. Brendan’s eyes were closed. I quietly said his name and he opened his eyes and took my face in both his hands. He told me that he was just thinking about me and how much love I brought to his life and how he felt so loved by my four children. I told him how loved I felt by him. I told him how much we all adored him. It was quite a moment with tears filling our eyes. We knew these were words that were yearning to be said and heard. Ohhhhh, that is what it is all about…..love and appreciation. That is what it is all about!
Until, we meet again, dear brother!
Brendan Loonam…teacher, writer, son, father, grandpa, husband, brother, brother-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, friend, lover of poetry and music, Irishman, Bronx boy, playwright and producer of “Gone Away with a Sailor”, and a gem of a human being.